“If you think you have it tough, read history books.” — Bill Maher
I’m no fan of Bill Maher, but he has a point about history. It’s a great way to gain some perspective. Not long ago I read Bill Bryson’s fascinating book At Home, and I realized I’d never fully appreciated such things as electricity and sewer systems. From relatively trivial blessings such as comfortable furniture, to life saving improvements such as modern medicine, we are fortunate to be living in today’s world.
A couple of years ago our son gave us the DVD set of the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book by David McCullough. The gruesome scenes of very early (and thus quite risky) smallpox vaccinations, or the equally sobering portrayal of the Adams’ daughter’s breast cancer surgery, done without benefit of anesthesia, offer graphic reminders that even the prominent and privileged of past centuries had a far less easy life than the average person today.
Look around you and notice how many things in your environment were not readily available to your grandparents or great-grandparents. Aside from the endless digital and electronic devices that we increasingly depend on as necessities, there are slightly older but no less essential comforts such as air conditioning, spacious kitchens, bathrooms and closets, and abundant, affordable choices in everything from clothing to housewares to groceries and fresh produce.
It’s easy to romanticize the past, but reading one of the many popular books by gifted historians such as McCullough, William Manchester or Barbara Tuchman will be an eye-opening experience that will leave you thankful for being who you are, where you are, and when you are. Besides, even the history books themselves are better now!